How They Made All-Purpose Soap In The Old Days
As I’ve been experimenting with making my own laundry detergent, I’ve become dissatisfied at the idea of it not really being “from scratch”. It would only be so if I made it without buying a single ingredient. I got to wondering how they used to make laundry soap, or any soap for that matter, back when there was no grocery store to buy it from.
Long ago, women didn’t use different kinds of soap for hygiene, laundry, baby care, dishes, or house cleaning. Everything was done with one type of soap, which was made from three main ingredients: tallow, lye, and water.
Tallow is a rendered form of beef fat. If you want to learn how to render your own tallow, check out this really helpful step-by-step.
Lye is made from wood ashes. You can order your own online, or if you are hard core about becoming self sufficient, you can make your own!
In the pioneer days, the women would make lye by gathering the wood ashes from their fireplace and putting them into a wooden hopper, as seen in this picture. Next, they would pour water over it to soak the ashes. The water that seeped out of the hopper and into the wooden bucket was lye water.
Next, they would boil the lye and tallow in a large cast iron kettle, and stir until the mixture thickened. Then they would pour it into old dishes or gourds or anything they could find to make a mold, and let it sit until it was almost all the way hardened. Once removed from the molds, the soap was cut into squares (or cakes) and left to sit in the sunlight to finish hardening.
This soap was used to wash everything!! I think that is so cool. If I ever get my hands on some tallow, and a large cast iron kettle, I’d LOVE to make my own soap like our ancestors did!
Do any of you make soap from home rendered tallow and lye? If so, I’d love to get a recipe!!
*Photos courtesy of the book Pioneer Children of Appalachia by Joan Anderson
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